On the surface, the Lunds are picturesque of everything that represents the perfect family. Under the surface, Rita and Dana Lund can barely skim the surface with their marriage dangerously ebb and flowing toward sharp, jagged rocks. In an effort to save their relationship, they take their preteen son on a RV camping trip along the coast line of California to try and rekindle their affection for one another. In one of their trip’s initial stops, a hitchhiker named Eric befriends Dana and the boy; they’re fondness for the charismatic and young Eric is so great that he’s invited to ride along with the family on their vacation. Rita’s suspicions of Eric are blinded by her immense loathing for Dana, suppressing Eric’s true maniacal, psychopathic behavior as he infiltrates the Lunds to conduct his only psychological behavior experiments by shifting the boy’s jovial persona, exploiting Rita’s sexual regression, and further alienate Dana from his family.
As if a fable that warns the dangers of picking up hitchhikers no matter how friendly and beautiful they appear to be, “Mind Games” dug into the psyche and had continued the trend of violently unstable roadside travelers that yearn to harm the hospitable, the compassionate, and just the plain old lonely. In Bob Yari’s first of two directorial efforts, the 1989 “Mind Games,” also once titled as “Easy Prey” is a thriller from the mind of screenwriter Kenneth Dorward and co-produced by screen actress turned financier Mary Apick, teaming up with Bob Yari after their work together on the sovereign nation standoff drama, “Checkpoint,” under the MTA/Persik Production Company banner. As the idyllic project for a low-budget thriller with a limited cast and barely any special effects required, “Mind Games” wound up being the first entry for the MTA/Persik affair that sought to stir conjugal strifes with outsider influence and how sometimes the grass is not always greener on the other side.
For an independent film with such a small, sharpened cast, well known actors from the 80’s step into the humblings of lesser grandeur, starting with Maxwell Caulfield. The young, promising star from the sequel to John Travolta’s “Grease” had his career nearly derailed with the critically panned big budget “Grease 2”, but luckily for horror genre fans, the English born actor channeled his talents toward such films as “Waxwork II” and “Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat.” Yet, “Mind Games” was essentially his second break into the film business that opened doors for the former titles and being the unhinged hitchhiker Eric couriered a necessary change from his stage performance to his ability to be warped-minded person looking through the eyes of a totally different and charmed individual. The role absolutely challenges the actor who, from analyzing his performance across the screen, finds breaking in the role more difficult than presumed. Edward Albert is a name you might not remember, but his face will strike some chords as “The Galaxy of Terror” actor steps into the self-deprecating husband role of Dana. Dana is just one of those individuals worth slapping across the face to wake them up and Albert amplifies his unintentional waning from his wife and child with such dismissal and disassociation, I, myself, found Dana’s lack of courage to be unsettling, but his rouse-less attribute fades slowly into man searching, if not clinging, for what’s left of his life. Caught between Eric’s snarky sensationalism and Dana’s lofty air is Dana’s angst wife, Rita, played by “Shadowzone’s” Shawn Weatherly. The blonde hair, blue eyed former Baywatch beach lifeguard sure knows how to be a wild card, an unknown friend or foe in this mental game of chess, as Rita staggers between hating to being extremely amicable with her husband, Dana. This is where Dana and Rita’s son, Kevin, fits in as the deciding factor pending the successfulness of Eric’s testing. Matt Norero didn’t have nearly the extensive career as his co-stars, but deliveries some great, if not zealous, scenes and cold-hearted glares that break up the sometimes monotonous tone of “Mind Games” would routinely find itself stuck.
To frankly put it, “Mind Games” bares the prosaic essence of a run of the mill thriller with a thin strip of riveting tension to cling onto. The film impresses comparably with a cheap suspense novels you’ll find multiple copies of collecting dust bunnies on Dollar Tree shelves where the paperwork backs lavished in a cheap bait title and cover art only provides a quarter of the entertainment value of its marketed worth. However, for a low budget production, Yari manages to pull off impressive aerial shots, eerie dim lit atmospherics of a fog machine heavy night scenes, and tack on flashes of so bad, it’s good meme worthy moments – i.e. the garbage day kill scene in “Silent Night, Deadly Night: Part 2” to reference what I mean. The score is conducted by “Night of the Comet” composer David Richard Campbell with an uncharacteristic upbeat and happy-go-lucky number weaving in and out of the film’s storyline, and coarsely out of place during the RV stop-a-long montage that proceeds after setting up Dana and Rita’s turbulent marriage and Eric’s understated malevolencies, but rather speaks to the overall spirit of the film that’s a rated-R labeled PG-13 thriller, hard on the language, but soft on the violence with more of an implied application of offscreen kills and virtually no blood from an anemic plotline.
Still, “Mind Games” can be considered a cauldron of cynicism and now that the release receives the royal treatment with a full HD, 1080p special collector’s edition Blu-ray from MVD’s Rewind Collection label spine #21. The retrograde cardboard slipcover harnesses a powering transfer that supplies vitality into the well-preserved 35mm source material and presents a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Perhaps the best this transfer looks to date, a plush matte that’s pleasing and without the drab bleakness that typically coincides. Natural grain remains upon a softer side delineation that’s not heftily indistinct and, in fact, adds to the glow of the product’s decade. The English LPCM 2.0 stereo audio mix has inviting qualities, but taper more on the lossy side of the spectrum. The soundtrack is powerful, especially on “The Writing on the Wall” single by Raven Kane. Dialogue is clear and untarnished, the range is adequate, and the depth is sound. No audio or video hiccups or blights to note nor any dubious enhancements detected. Option English subtitles are available. Special features are aplenty including a new MVD exclusive, retrospective look at the Making of Mind Games that clocks in at 108 minutes of interviews with director Bob Yari, producer Mary Apick, and stars Maxwell Caulfield, Shawn Weatherly, and Matt Norero. Also included a featurette on the producing career of Bob Yari who helmed award winning films such as “Crash,” and concludes with the original theatrical trailer, a reversible sleeve with alternate art, and a collectible mini-poster in the insert slot. “Mind Games'” message to the world is never knowing how good you have something until nearly being ripped from your hands. Director Bob Yari finagles the point across with an unexceptional joyride, but a solid first film from an indie startup hungry enough to take a chance on a practical psychological thriller.